Fear gets to the best of us, whether it is fear of failure, fear of success, or even fear of fear. All of us have experienced fear at some point in our lives and it can be a real stumbling block that holds us back from being truly successful.
Fear can’t hold you back forever if you don’t let it. There are several ways to overcome fear, here are my top 9:
1. SEPARATE REALITY FROM PERCEPTION
Ask yourself what is really going on, locate the facts and place them over your feelings.
2. IDENTIFY THE TRIGGER
Figure out what it is in a situation that triggers you. Learning to identify it will help you learn to combat it.
3. KNOW WHERE FEAR LIVES IN YOUR BODY
A lot of times, fear takes over physically. It affects different people in different ways. Identify if/how it affects your physical body and do the work to take care of your body. Ex: if you hold stress in your back, you can learn stretches, foam rolling, etc. to avoid the pain.
4. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
Every day, list out 1-3 things you are thankful for. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is, gratitude helps shift the mind into a positive light, which over time, overcomes fear.
5. LISTEN TO YOUR INNER VOICE
Monitor your inner conversations. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Speak positively to yourself and remind yourself of your strengths.
6. CREATE A NEW ASSOCIATION
Remind yourself that the feeling and the moment will pass. Focus on the positive outcome of the situation, rather than the scary in-between.
7. LOOK AT THE GLASS HALF FULL
Perception is a very powerful thing, and how you feel about your situation dictates how you respond. So think positively and you’ll give yourself a much better chance of success. This won’t happen overnight; practice with just one thought. What is one recurring negative/fearful thought you have? Work on reversing this one thought. Over time, this will become a habit.
8. PRACTICE BREATHING EXERCISES
Breathing helps center your body; when you stop breathing, your heart stops beating. You can do a grounding exercise, or even just take 5 deep, long breaths at any point to calm and center yourself. It is best to start your day with this, but feel free to practice all day long.
9. CREATE A SAFE SPACE
When you feel safe and secure, there is no room for fear. Find somewhere safe you can retreat to when ill feelings begin- whether this is a real place such as your bedroom, or a place in your mind such as the beach. This sense of comfort will soothe you and allow you to face your fear.
Please keep in mind, these are just 9 strategies, not everything works for everyone. But this is a place to start. Start implementing these techniques into your life and don’t let fear hold you back from reaching your goals and your highest potential this year!
Perfectionism becomes a problem when it leads to unhappiness or interferes with your day-to-day functioning. While trying to do things well is all good, setting excessively high standards can affect almost any area of life, including health, your diet, work, relationships, and interests.
Some of the main areas that often get impaired by perfectionism are work, home and school, relationships, and leisure.
Answer the following questions (Y/N) and find out if you are afflicted with excessive levels of perfectionism.
I often end up feeling, I could have done better
I fear failing when working on some major assignment
I strive to maintain control of my emotions at all times
I get upset when things don’t go as planned
I am often disappointed at the quality of other people’s work
I firmly believe that there is a time and place for everything
I don’t start anything unless I am sure I have all the resources needed to do the task
I am unhappy if anything I do is considered to be average
I am afraid of what others will think of me if I fail
I need absolute clarity before undertaking anything in life
If you have answered ‘Yes’ to 5 or more to the above questions, then it indicates a potential problem with perfectionism.
Most people define themselves, at least in part, by the work they do. Therefore, it generally becomes important for them to do a good job.
As a salesperson, I used to experience a high and sense of satisfaction after securing a large contract. Similarly, a student feels good after receiving an outstanding grade in an exam or assignment. However, perfectionism may get in the way of your performance at School, Home, or Work. Perfectionism potentially may reduce your ability to enjoy your work or may influence the ways in which you treat others at work.
Let me give a few examples to put this in context.
When I started my career as a corporate trainer, I was overly concerned about doing a perfect job and expected to bring about change or impact everyone in the class. Even if one participant said that he somehow is not able to relate to what I was teaching, I used to get extremely stressed. If that happened sometime during the course of the program, I used to put so much effort to satisfy that one person that I used to neglect the others present in the class. While my ratings were good and always 4.7 and above out of 5, I used to leave the class with a sense of dissatisfaction. This eventually led to anxiety and panic attacks before and after every session.
I had a friend of mine who was so concerned about doing well at his job that he felt very uncomfortable doing just about anything else other than work. Although his workload was not especially heavy, he tended to avoid co-workers who wanted to engage in small talk during work hours, and he avoided taking breaks (including lunch with colleagues, mostly having a quick bite at his desk). He was also the first person to arrive at work and put a high price on reaching on time every day 365 days a year. Although his intention was to make a good impression at work, his obsessive behavior had the effect of alienating his co-workers, including at times his supervisor. In his case, excessively high standards for himself affected the impression that he made on others at work.
I worked with a manager in a large corporation who had similar very high standards for his staff. He was completely intolerant of anyone arriving late for work, making small mistakes, or completing their work after a deadline—with no exceptions. He tended to respond to these behaviors with anger and had a reputation for being overly critical when completing performance reviews of his team members. As a result, team members stayed away from him as much as possible and tried their best to avoid engaging in any conversation with him. They were apprehensive, tentative, and afraid of interactions with him. People who worked with him were unmotivated in their work because they knew that he could never be satisfied, no matter how well they performed.
Another example was of a student I was counseling who was terrified of getting anything less than a ‘A’ in any of his exams. Months before the exams he would start studying putting else aside, including friends, family, sleep, and even food. He ate irregularly and stayed up all night before the exams. On the days of his exam, he was too tired, and no amount of coffee could help him stay alert. His grades suffered though he knew the material well. He used to go through long periods of depressive thoughts as he was frustrated that he didn’t perform well in the exam though he knew all the answers.
I am sure you are able to relate to some of the examples above that you would have observed in others or experienced yourself. Let’s look at a few types of perfectionism that afflict people.
Time, Space, and Resources
This is the most common type of perfectionism that reduces the number of situations in which a person will act. Exercising is a great example to explain how those who are perfectionists. They are the ones who have clearly designated places where one must exercise, the time of the day when it should be done, and the complete list of resources that must be available before exercising. For example, you must go to a gym to exercise, must be ideally before 8 AM in the morning and not later than 6 PM in the evening and you must have the perfect clothing to exercise. They are also people who consider weight training to be done using heavy equipment.
But we all know that the only exercise equipment that you need is your body unless you are a perfectionist.
This is something we encounter every day and know of. Those who have this kind of perfectionist tendencies are driven mad by their incessant desire for flawless execution. They cannot tolerate anything less-than-perfect. This is most often seen in our workplace but for some, it can be part of their family life as well. Expecting nothing less than a perfect score or grade from their kid at school, perfectly clean rooms with not even a speck of dust particle in any corner. They are the ones who go around after a cleaning session rubbing their palms over nooks and corners to see if there is even a little particle, they would have missed cleaning. The worst, if they find even one such corner, they start all over again looking at all rooms to just ensure that they have done a perfect job.
Quantity and Measurements
Those who are obsessively driven by quantity and measurements are never satisfied with action if it falls below a number threshold or benchmark they have in mind. There are over 90% and more people in the world who struggled with the perfectionism of this kind. It’s probably because social norms have set definitions of success in any job and those benchmarks are always big size and nothing less than perfect.
This type of perfectionism is mostly in the sense of quality: getting your hair done perfectly, having a perfect dinner table, and keeping your desk spotless and does more than quality or that of time, space, and resources. The problem of this type gets accentuated especially when working with “GOALS”.
Most of us are inadvertently conditioned to be perfectionists by mimicking the goals of people around us. You will notice that every single “normal” goal is perfectionistic in nature. They are expressed in terms of quantity and metrics, and almost all people have such goals.
For example, our “New Year Goals and Resolutions”. I must lose 40 pounds in six months, publish a book this year, start earning six figures this year, read one book per week, and so on. You will notice these aren’t impossible goals, but they are somehow perfectionistic in nature as they implicitly indicate that small progress isn’t good enough. For me, when I go to the gym, for my workouts, I had to increase the weights for my squats by at least 6 pounds every week; anything less wasn’t good enough progress.
For me a goal was always about a “podium finish” and it had to be Gold. No matter how much progress I have made, my goals were always like a high jump, either you are over it or under. This extremely binary view of our goals worsens the problem for a perfectionist.
I think the biggest mistake a perfectionist would make is often redefining partial success as a “complete failure”. They end up feeling humiliated and embarrassed if it is anything less than the whole.
It is not just harmful to our progress and mental well-being but borders on being irrational. Not accepting or putting a value on small progress and wanting only big and perfect wins can be frustrating and paralyze action.
When you set goals like these, it triggers in us emotions such as guilt and shame, and we relapse into our old selves. That is probably the reason why most people give up on their new year goals every year – year-on-year.
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The focus of all lockdowns has been to break the chain – breaking the physical spread of the virus. Apart from practicing the 3Ws i.e., Wear your Mask, Wash your hands and Watch your distance.
Has it helped? partially and in some places totally.
The unfortunate thing is that we have not practiced that on social media and in our thinking.
The “Law of Attraction” says that you tend to get what you focus your energies on. Now let’s look at the type of energies we are generating around the already stressful situation of the pandemic.
So much dread, fear, cynicism, and negativity. The only stories we are getting to hear are of how things are going from bad to worse, how governments have been failing us, how it is all a sham.
Every day, you open social media, turn on the tv, talk to people, the only talk is around how things are very bad and will get much worse.
How is it helping those who are suffering?
We know that words have power and they can shape our minds.
Can we attempt a hard lockdown on our negative stories? Can we STOP talking about how things are going downhill? Can we tell stories which will lift people’s spirit? Can we share the success stories of those who have recovered?
According to APA (American Psychological Association, 2017), all individuals are unique and differ in their patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. While your emotions may fluctuate during the course of your everyday interactions with the world; your personality infrastructure is thought to remain stable after a person reaches a specific age (McCrae & Costa, 2003).
One of the foremost and widely researched personality models is the ‘Five Factor Model – Big Five’, measured by a set of highly reliable and valid inventory supported by McCrae and Costa’s work. These Big Five measures the five descriptors of personality as ‘Openness to experience’, ‘Conscientiousness’, ‘Extraversion’, ‘Agreeableness’ and ‘Neuroticism’ or the ‘Negative emotionality’ or popularly known as the OCEAN Scale. The core set of dispositional traits within the Big Five are the predominant aspects of a personality and provides a much organized framework with which a human personality can be measured. While the Big Five can broadly predict your personal disposition, there are over 30 facets or sub-traits which go to make the Big Five comprehensively describable and accurate.
Over three decades of research focused on the relationship between personality and psychological well-being (eg: Schmutte & Ryff, 1997) and more recently Siegler and Brummett (2000) have shown a strong positive association of the Big Five traits and its related variables to mental wellness.
“Mental health is not just an ‘absence of illness’ as you have known. It is rather the ‘presence of wellness’. There are human capacities which are needed for you to flourish and protect and are associated with being well.”
Mental Wellness – Prathibimb™
The ‘Prathibimb’ means ‘reflection’ in Hindi which builds on the most powerful framework and model of your ‘Mental Wellness’ which will help you analyze and organize your life better and help you generate ideas about how to lead and live a better, a more satisfying life.
With my experience of working with over 450,000 people across all walks of life and studying their behavioral dispositions and impact on mental wellness, I believe that as most of the big five research conforms, your personality has a strong correlation with your mental welleness. Once you are able to deeply undestand all the personality traits and related variables, you will get a hold on how you respond to stimuli – both internal and extraneous.
We have identified, 6 Key dimensions of your personality which when related to your personality dispositions can be a good predictor of your mental wellness. These six dimensions are your Emotional well-being, Defense mechanism, Anger response, Impulsivity, Purpose in life and Positive relationships with others.
By understanding your personality or ‘Prathibimb’ and how it correlates with the mental wellness dimensions, you will derive immense benefits like;
Self-awareness and acceptance
Self-control and discipline
Greater understanding of your strengths and ability to use them to your advantage
Predict dimensions which could negatively impact your sense of well-being
Help you develop coping strategies for mental wellness
The 6 Key Dimensions of Mental Wellness
Each individual is unique and comes with a unique set of personality traits and characteristics. These traits predispose them to certain behavior which contribute positively or negatively to their mental state. While there could be many possibilities, our research says that there are 6 key dimensions the correlation of which provides us with a basis for predicting how an individual will respond to what is thrown at him/her; in turn influencing the mental wellness. Given below are the 6 dimensions for your understanding.
Your Emotional well-being (EWB) is a cognitive appraisal of satisfaction with life in general and includes a positive balance of pleasant to unpleasant. Well-being and mental health are issues of everyday life and emotional well-being can be considered as a component of positive mental health. Experiencing positive emotions can be considered as one of the pillars of positive psychology. Your emotional well-being includes how you relate to the subjective experience of the past, present and the future. (reference Keyes 2003).
There are two key factors of the big five which influence your state of emotional well-being namely, Neuroticism or Negative emotionality and Extraversion. Basis on how you score on these traits, either high, average or low, you would show dispositions which have a certain impact on your mental status and could be described as;
Sanguine optimist – Those who are usually cheerful because they are not unduly troubled by problems, and who have a keen appreciation for life’s pleasures. They are quick to recover from setbacks. Nothing in the world which would often worry or frighten others, bothers them. They have confidence in future possibilities and are focused on the same. Their cheerful nature manifests in all their interpersonal interactions, spreading positivity all around.
Apathetic – Those who often have tendencies showing a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, or concern about things. They tend to remain in a state of indifference and show little or no interest in the happenings and events that would excite or worry others. In their interpersonal interactions they may come across to others as cold, insensitive, uncaring, and bland. As an apathetic person they may lack a sense of purpose, worth, or meaning in their life. They may also exhibit insensibility or sluggishness.
Sombre pessimist – Those who have heightened levels of negative emotions and frequent bouts of anxiety, worry and stressful episodes, you often find life hard and joyless. Their predisposition towards lower levels of social interaction makes it difficult for them to vent and share your negative emotions leading to a downward spiral of negativity. They tend to have little faith in the future and often come across as pessimists to people who interact with you.
Highly emotional – Those who often experience high levels of negative emotions with frequent mood swings, negative thoughts, high levels of stress, and anxiety. Add to this their inclination towards high levels of social interactions make their interpersonal transactions extremely tumultuous.
Defense mechanism points to how your personality traits influence your mental processes to find solutions to stressful episodes in your life. It points to the ways in which your mind will project your negative emotions into thoughts and feelings. This mental process is usually unconscious and tends to conceal your internal drives or feelings that threaten to impact your self-esteem and provoke anxiety.
There are two key factors of the big five which influence your state of emotional well-being namely, Neuroticism or Negative emotionality and Openness to experience. Basis on how you score on these traits, either high, average or low, you would show dispositions which have a certain impact on your mental status and could be described as,
Super-sensitive – Those who fall under this category of emotional super-sensitivity have something like a sixth sense, a highly developed level of empathy, that allows them to recognize different emotions in others. The problem is that it affects them, and because they feel much more than everyone else, they feel other people’s pain in their own flesh.
Non-adaptive – A non-adaptive person’s anxiety, stress, negative emotions are often not lessened by their own behavior and is dysfunctional to the individual. They may often find it difficult to find solutions to the anxiety you experience. They may be prone to using repression and denial as a defense mechanism.
Under-sensitive – People with an under-sensitive personality rarely experience negative emotionality and often downplay its affects. They do not dwell too much on their setbacks and instead move quickly to solutions. This is often to distract themselves. The threshold for pain is so high in them that they may often overlook or are not sensitive to the impending dangers.
Adaptive – These individuals are often calm in the face of threat, stress, or any problem. They are naturally prone to find solutions and use their creative abilities to adapt themselves to various situations. They find humor in the face of stress and often calm nerves using their vivid imagination.
Anger is a natural and mostly automatic response to pain of one form or another (physical or emotional). Anger can occur when people don’t feel well, feel rejected, feel threatened, or experience some loss. The type of pain does not matter; the important thing is that the pain experienced is unpleasant.
There are two key factors of the big five which influence your state of emotional well-being namely, Neuroticism or Negative emotionality and Agreeableness. Basis on how you score on these traits, either high, average or low, you would show dispositions which have a certain impact on your mental status and could be described as,
Timid – Those who are timid often lack in self-confidence and are apprehensive over their response to conflicting emotions which make them angry. They get easily hurt and often feel down, taking a long time to recover from negative feelings. They are easily angered when faced with adversity and their reticence often makes them direct their anger inwards towards themselves.
Moody – Those who are moody often overlook the impact of their anger on others. They are easily angered and direct their anger on others. In their interactions with others, they come across as volatile and get irritated over minor issues. They boil with anger for prolonged periods of time and are always at the tipping point of an angry outburst.
Callous – Those who are callous do take offense, but they have the ability to remain calm and not be overpowered by feelings of anger. They are very calculative in their interactions with others and have the propensity to seek revenge in a cold-blooded manner. They could hurt people nonchalantly and hardly ever feel bad about it.
Mellow – Those who are mellow do not get angered easily. They remain calm and in the face of interpersonal conflict would prefer to forgive and forget. They believe that most people are of good intent. In the face of any dispute with others, they try and focus more on reaching a common ground for resolution.
Impulsivity, or an impulsive behaviour, is broadly defined as actions without foresight that are poorly conceived, prematurely expressed, unnecessarily risky, and inappropriate to the situation. Impulsivity is associated with undesirable, rather than desirable, outcomes. From making hasty decisions to getting into fights, impulsivity can cause harm to yourself and those around you. In addition to undermining relationships and your overall sense of well-being, impulsive behaviours can also lead to personal harm if left unchecked.
There are two key factors of the big five which influence your state of emotional well-being namely, Neuroticism or Negative emotionality and Conscientiousness. Basis on how you score on these traits, either high, average or low, you would show dispositions which have a certain impact on your mental status and could be described as,
Over-controlled – Overcontrolled people are tense and stressful with a high need for control. They look for perfectionism in everything and tend to get edgy and agitated when they are unable to achieve those levels. They are obsessed with the need to reach an imaginary high level of performance which are often unrealistic and at times unattainable. They often feel a sense of incompleteness in their work which puts them under undue stress. They are often so worried about the outcome that they find it difficult to stop. They tend to panic for the slightest reason.
Under-controlled – Undercontrolled people often lack in self-discipline and cannot pull back their urge to do many things at the same time. They are often unplanned and do not pay attention to detail which comes back to hurt them in the long-term. They frequently switch their attention from one activity to the other leading to sub-optimal outcome. They are prone to high levels of stress as they encounter more failures than success. It takes them on a spiral of dysfunctional behavior of seeking solace in external sources. They are prone to the feeling that everything around them is going out of control and they cannot do anything about it. They may indulge in behaviors which risk their health.
Relaxed – Relaxed people are never really bothered about the outcome and they do not feel the need to exercise control over their actions. They often find it hard to motivate themselves and they are hard to be motivated by others as well. They don’t easily get disappointed when results are not as expected. They tend to brush aside setbacks with such ease that others may find them to be disinterested, disinclined, or plainly not bothered.
Focused – Focused people are clear about what they want in life and work diligently towards achieving their goals. They are not flustered by setbacks and have the ability to recover quickly to continue pursuing their goals. They remain calm and composed in the face of adversity and are not angered easily.
Purpose in life
It relates to one’s ability to feel that there is a purpose to life. It indicates a clear purpose and meaning of life. It relates to your sense of directedness and intentionality. It is about your drive to achieve your goals. It’s your pursuit of making life meaningful or purposeful. You could either be seen to have a ‘strong’ purpose in life or ‘weak’ purpose based on the scores on the big five factors and related variables. The factor of conscientiousness has a major influence on this dimension.
Strong purpose in life – People who score high on the aspect of “Purpose in Life”, always have goals and a sense of directedness in their life; they feel there is meaning to their present and past life; hold beliefs that give life purpose; and have aims and objectives for living.
Having a strong purpose in life is a good predictor of both health and longevity. Evidence suggests that the ability to find meaning from life’s experiences, especially when confronting challenges, may be a mechanism underlying the resilience in those who have a strong purpose in life.
Weak purpose in life – Those who show a weak purpose in life may lack a sense of meaning in life. They often have few goals or aims, lack a sense of direction; do not see purpose in their past life; and have no outlook or beliefs that give their life meaning.
It is your ability to have positive relationships with others. It emphasizes the ability to form close union with others, and the guidance and direction of others. It relates to your ability to maintain warm, affectionate, friendly, cordial relations with others. It is an indicator of your social wellness. You could either be seen to have a ‘strong’ positive relationship with others or ‘weak’ relations with others, based on the scores on the big five factors and related variables. The factor of extraversion is known to have a major influence on this dimension.
Strong positive relationship with others – People with a score indicating strong positive relationship with others, have warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others. They are concerned about the welfare of others and are capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy. They understand the give and take of human relationships.
Weak relations with others – People with a score which indicates weak relationships with others have few close, trusting relationships with others. They find it difficult to be warm, open, and concerned about others. They often find themselves to be isolated and frustrated in interpersonal relationships. They often are not willing to make compromises to sustain important ties with others.
Note: Sree Kumar, the author of this article, who is the co-founder and partner at Equinox Consultants, is the co-creator of the Prathibimb Mental Wellness™ (PMW) Model and framework. This article is intended to outline the framework. For more information on the PMW assessments and how it can help improve your personal and organizational wellness, you could get in touch with him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright: Prathibimb and Prathibimb Mental Wellness Assessment™ (PMWA) are copyrighted and are the intellectual property of Equinox Consultants. No part of this document or related assessments and suggestions may be reproduced, copied or used without the written and explicit consent of the authors.
This story is in continuation to my last poem “Who Am I?”
I was walking through the local supermarket the other day when I saw a grandfather walking around with his 2 year old grandson. It was obvious that the grandpa wasn’t having an easy time of it, with the cacophony of his cherished grandson scaling upwards every time candy or toys came into view.
The grandfather, however, kept his cool, and intoned softly to the child: “Rama relax, it won’t take long.”
When the screaming didn’t stop, the grandpa continued: ” Rama, there’s no reason to get angry, try to enjoy this walk and in a minute we’ll be on the way home, I promise.”
When I came out of the store I saw them in the parking lot, the child screaming and the older man still talking softly and quietly to him. I couldn’t help myself. I walked over to him.
“Sir,” I said, “I have to say you are an amazing grandfather. The way you talk to the boy and keep your calm despite all of this screaming – Rama sure is a lucky to have a grandfather like you.”
“Thanks,” said the grandfather, “but I’m Rama. This little devil’s name is Krishna.”
With the relaxation of restrictions by the governments to stimulate economic growth; businesses slowly crawling back to normalcy and recovery. While business activity seems to be gathering speed, there is little sense of relief amongst the corporate leadership as the scars left by the pandemic will take a long time to heal. Post covid-19 scenario is posing some serious challenges for the business leaders to manage not just business recovery but also emotional recovery of their employees.
I do believe that the business story will go to script, the people side of the story can have a lot going on below the surface. All might not be hunky-dory after all. Let’s look at some of the possible challenges which leaders might face while navigating the post covid-19 scenario.
Mental / emotional wellness
This fact cannot be denied that the lockdown, work-from-home, recalibration of work relationships, fear of losing jobs, lowered income, uncertainty, loss of someone dear and fear of continuous monitoring and scrutiny not just of work but in personal life has taken a toll on the mental and emotional well-being of employees. Though it could possibly be a stretch to imagine that people may exhibit signs similar to PTSD, it could be closer to that. Its like the soldiers or the doctors who find the normal life to be so inconsequential compared to the combat like situations they have seen on the field. Many would have encountered life changing moments which would have made them significantly redraw and recalibrate the way they would like to lead their life going forward. Now, with normalcy returning the fear that things would go back to old ways and drudgery, will be weighing heavily in the minds of the employees.
One of the positive fallouts of the pandemic was that the social wellness quotient seems to have significantly improved. The upheaval had caused the society at large to collaborate and support each other to face the challenges posed by covid-19. People demonstrated more empathy and care for others as they handled the crisis as a team. They reconnected all those relationships which they had long forgotten. Discussions moved away from just work and productivity to the well-being of self and others. Increased use of digital platforms and social media networks during the pandemic helped increase the level and frequency of communication. Keeping people connected 24X7. There was a level of honesty and transparency and people felt comfortable being vulnerable with each other as they knew that all of humanity was going through this emotional upheaval.
So, what then is the challenge for leaders? Employees are wary that they will no longer be able to spend that much time in self-care once they get back to the routine working patterns of the past. They are wary that they would not have enough time with their family and relations and the balance they were able to achieve working from home will be lost. More like an opportunity cost. There is a danger of people now getting back to their competitive ways and away from looking at the larger good. In the light of renewing face-to-face contact, people would again start drawing up their defensive walls in order to protect themselves. Fear of being vulnerable at workplace will reappear in the minds of employees. That would mean that leaders may find that people are suddenly withdrawn and cagy.
Informal networks, quick decision making, effective and efficient meetings, clear and concise communication and high level of collaborative work, absence of subjective judgments, were some significant outcomes, thanks to the pandemic. Getting back to work team members would fear all that would vanish and the conflicts which were rested or forgotten because of the crisis would resurface once they join regular work. Team members during the pandemic could act independently and were given the freedom to decide and act on their own as long as they delivered results. With the return to work the fear is of the hovering boss, the competitive colleague and limited freedom to operate. The team and its members will be anxious about their future. Businesses would possibly try to cut down expenses or would have planned for recalibrating teams that could impact negatively. The uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity would add to the woes of the team members and negatively impact the overall mental wellness of the team.
The leaders themselves would have gone through great emotional upheaval due to the pandemic. They would have seen several senior leadership positions being done away with already in order to cut costs. Some positions were also made redundant thanks to the digital driven monitoring and control of performance. Leaders themselves would be highly anxious about their jobs and their future. This could significantly impact the way they would receive their teams when they return to work. Leaders would also be susceptible to significant trust deficit with their team members as they would have unfortunately been tasked with relieving a lot of people from their jobs. Team members would be tentative in all their interactions with such leaders. Leaders would also have in their own anxiety been possibly insensitive while dealing with team members during the covid-19 period. They would have become intrusive and overbearing towards their team members, thereby negatively impacting the relationship. Rebuilding trust will be a significant challenge for leadership while navigating the post covid-19 recovery.
How can a leader navigate the post covid-19 recovery phase?
Leadership needs to realize that it is not going to be as easy as it looks – getting back to work and start doing what they were doing before. They may have to take a long hard look at the old habits of leading businesses and teams. They have to re-prioritize, re-plan, adjust and redirect their resources for managing the recovery process. Leaders need to focus once again on the four key dimensions of high-performance teams – the S.T.A.R™
In order for leaders to address the emotional and mental wellness of their employees, there will be a need to stimulate a communication climate which will be based on feedback, listening and more importantly sensitivity. Teams would have to again go through with the forming, storming, norming and performing stages of development which comes with its unique set of challenges post covid-19. They will be tasked with the need to hold ‘the critical dialogue’ or difficult conversation with their team members which would involve communicating new roles and responsibilities, work processes, performance goals and metrics.
There should be regular and extensive use of feedback in order to create the much-needed buy-in for the renewed work process. The social distancing norms of a physical workspace would mean that people might not be as comfortable in each other’s company as they continue to grapple with the anxiety of the “what if”. During the pandemic because of the remote working environment, there was a forced need for regular feedback, as that was the only way you could keep up to speed with what your colleague was doing. The interdependencies were visible and clear. That will get blurred as when leaders return to work, they may withdraw to old ways of working where ‘feedback’ would have often been minimal. Seeking feedback from ‘Employee Mental Wellness’ surveys will be an important step to take before getting the wheels of office work in motion.
Leaders must encourage employees to speak up as often and as frequently as was the case while working remotely. They must ‘actively listen’ to their concerns and seek to address them before they snowball into another crisis, this time driven by employee anxiety and emotional wellness issues. They will have to put in the extra effort to have their eyes and ears to the ground and pick up even the slightest sign of distress amongst co-workers and deal with them immediately. Remote working had helped employees to put their thoughts in digital form without any fear as they didn’t have to come face to face in meeting rooms with their leadership. The small group side-conversations to discuss each other’s problems online was what helped many deal with their emotional issues in the safety of their home. Leaders must provide the space and time for people to engage in similar conversations in the office to reduce stress.
Back to physical workspace would demand a high level of sensitivity from the leadership in dealing with employee emotions and understanding their mental state. People would have redrawn their family roles and responsibilities and were just about getting into the comfort zone of collaborating on chores on a daily basis. Help was ready any time any family member wanted; right from helping with the dishes, children’s study, tidying up the rooms – all pitched in. Leaders must understand that when you call the employees back to work, they not only have to deal with the renewed work process but also with the emotional pain of redrawing their familial responsibilities. People cannot simply switch on and off from work and family as you would tend to expect. Heightened level of sensitivity will be the key. There is a need to not just communicate, but overcommunicate at this point.
The pandemic also brought about in employees the trauma of losing jobs, reduced incomes, blurred lines of roles and responsibilities. As businesses were trying to cut losses by reducing their physical office infrastructure, the casualty was also jobs. Though it was the demand of the situation and a hard decision for many businesses, they had no choice but to relieve many of their jobs. The problem was that those leaders who were tasked to communicate this difficult message have to face the remainder of employees. They would always be suspicious about their leader’s intention and every conversation, each move, will be closely scrutinized. The leadership themselves may be going through the anxiety as they must once again prove that they have and will manage the transition. The stress of exposure and increased vulnerability impacts ‘trust’ greatly.
What can leaders do to rebuild the potential loss of ‘trust’ in teams?
‘Openness and transparency’ in all transactions will be the key. Leaders must keep the employees engaged through dialogue. They must enhance the level of transparency in decision making and keep the employees informed and involved. Any closed-door meeting will be viewed with suspicion and should not be overlooked. Agendas need to be shared and spelt out to team members and feedback must be sought regularly to increase the level of openness.
‘Integrity’ of leadership will be put to test. Leaders need to walk-the-talk. All the promises and commitments made in the last one year just to keep the team in good spirits need to now be followed through with visible action. As the teams would have digital records of such conversations.
This would bring in the dimension of ‘data privacy and security’. Increased activity online during covid-19 pandemic also raised the concerns regarding cyber security. As people moved completely to the digital world, they exposed themselves to potential cyber-attacks on their personal data. As they heard how cyber criminals were taking advantage of the increase in online activity, now employees would carry forward such fears about privacy of official conversations as well. Employees will be concerned that the ‘spoken words’ which could during pre-covid times be denied are possibly recorded on online communication mediums. For example, a conversation regarding the boss in a chat room would now be vulnerable to exposure by any vested party. Leaders must take any negative conversation / gossip emerging from such sources with a pinch of salt and put to rest the fears that employees would have regarding misuse of their personal data.
Leaders must ease their teams into post covid-19 routines by continuing the informal networks, collaborative digital spaces, social media use and other informal activities they would got onto during the lockdown. An example could be celebrating the birthday or anniversary of a family member of the employee. During the pandemic, lot of companies found that team members were able to participate in social events of co-workers, getting to know them more personally, which contributed to increased bonding. The same in some form must continue once the teams return to physical workspaces. There will be increased pressure on leaders to enhance the level of ‘Trust’ in teams and openness, transparency, collaboration and integrity will be the key to achieve that at workplace.
When teams are faced with a crisis, the boundaries of work get blurred as everyone gets involved to ensure team success. People may take up additional responsibilities and roles which otherwise they would be reluctant to do or may not be tasked to do. This could also mean that they would have got a hands-on experience of working in a fluidic way. Decisions were made without much fuss, agreements arrived at quickly, meetings became very efficient and effective and there was a visible increase in ‘commitment’ of employees towards the larger goal. Discussions were no longer about “who will do what?” but “what can we do?” and “how to we get this done?”
With gradual return to physical workspaces, leaders will have to now relook and rewire the roles and responsibilities keeping in mind that they do not disturb the fallout benefits derived from the pandemic. They shouldn’t suddenly start drawing boundaries around roles such that people get back to their silos. The competency frameworks which existed pre-covid must be relooked at and employees must be coached to take on revised set of competencies which will help them in their way forward. Independence and delegation with not just responsibility but authority should be the way forward. Following through with employees on a regular basis must continue. Leaders must get out and ‘manage by walking and talking about’. Employees must be involved while redefining and redrawing roles and responsibilities. This will ensure ‘team wellness’ and increased level of accountability, leading to higher and sustained level of performance.
Surveys done with business leaders indicated that there was an increase in productivity of employees during the lockdown and remotely working from home. Employees were committed to deliver what was asked of them and did that by willingly stretching the working hours. As long as the work was getting done, people unlike in the past, were not complaining about not getting back home in time to be with family. The fact that they were with their family all of the time helped them to achieve the much needed ‘work-life balance’ or at least they could get a sense of the same.
In order for leaders to sustain the productivity levels of employees, they must be focused on providing the same level of balance to their people and create an environment where the focus is more on deliverables than on how many working hours is the employee putting in. Organizations who were otherwise giving flexible working hours only to the few privileged senior employees must rethink and see how they can integrate the same for all employees. Flexibility was one of the key factors contributing to employee productivity and that cannot and should not be taken away from them when they return to physical workspaces. Processes need to be put in place which will ensure that employees don’t feel the pressure of close monitoring and have the fear of the ‘hovering boss’ once again. Employees must be involved in re-defining goals and objectives to enhance “ownership”.
“Should I kill myself, or make myself a cup of coffee?”
Famous quote from the existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, driving home the point that in every area of our life and in every moment, a choice is waiting to be made.
According to a study, the number of people who can describe themselves as “very happy” has nosedived during the last 30 years or so and the most painful manifestation being the increased prevalence of clinical depression.
So what is causing this? While there could be many reasons, one which affects all of us is the stress from making choices; everyday – every moment!
There are so many alternatives to our choices. Fortunately for us most of our day-to-day choices are on autopilot and we don’t really need to ponder for long. Putting on your clothes or brushing your teeth before you step out to office don’t really count.
I am talking about the innumerable choices we are faced with, which demand a lot of effort – both intellectual and emotional. Right from choosing a health insurance to an educational program; from fitness program to a diet plan; a mobile device to a laptop, our choices have become incredibly complicated. I hardly know a person who fully understands what his health insurance covers. Most of us sign on the dotted line fatigued by reading the lines and between them and end up ‘choosing’ – yeah well that’s a choice as well 😊 to go with what our investment advisor told us.
We have so many alternatives that making the choice puts a huge burden of responsibility on the individual. The free markets have added to the burden. One’s ability to make choices is probably the single most important skill to learn today, especially so when it comes to critical ones like finances, health and medicine, education, fitness and diet, and buying a home; the stakes for the individual are very high. A bad investment decision for example, can bring complete financial ruin to an individual’s life, forcing the person to prioritize between food and medicine.
The effect of these incredibly demanding choices we have to make ourselves, makes it harder for people to choose wisely. In fact, the so called ‘freedom of choice’ sometimes feels like a crushing burden on us.
Even with few alternatives on hand, our decision making is prone to error. It’s partly due to the fact that they are partially impacted by our memory and conditioning which are often biased.
As Daniel Kahneman states, “how we remember a past experience depends almost entirely on how the experience felt to us when it was at its best or worst, and when it ended”.
With online digital shopping in vogue today, making a choice has become more and more difficult. I am sure you would have felt that at the end of an experience of an online purchase it robs us of the much-needed satisfaction and happiness of having finally made a choice. For example, I myself experience this every year, when I am tasked with planning a vacation for my family. At times it has taken a month before I finally arrive at a decision. After skimming through the web with so many alternatives and with intense brainstorming with the stakeholders i.e, family, it is so exhausting for all that you are still reeling under the thought whether you made the right decision in the end? At times I have experienced, I am in the midst of the holiday reminded of the options I could have considered which would have possibly been better than the one I chose. That spoils the whole vacation. Have you had similar experiences? Not just a vacation but any other choice which you have made in the recent past?
These are nothing but what we popularly know as opportunity cost of passing up the opportunity that the other option could have possibly provided. Whenever we think of opportunity costs, we are prone to feel less satisfied with our choice that we would if the alternatives were unknown.
Today, the Mental wellness and Emotional Wellness industry is growing at a fast pace. Did you know what’s behind their growth? Widespread unhappiness!
Sometimes you wonder, with so much of development taking place around the world where man has even planned to set foot on Mars, why is here so much unhappiness all around?
Simply put, we are spoilt for choice.
We are suffering because we have been presented with unlimited options on a daily basis and we are prone to make errors of judgment where our choices turn out to be disappointing. We start blaming ourselves.
You start to sense a lack of control. As Martin Seligman says, “failure or lack of control leads to depression”. You end up blaming yourselves and such self-blame is easier in a world where your options are unlimited. The modern epidemic of unhappiness is highly correlated with this abundance of alternatives of which you have to choose.
You may realize that the unlimited freedom of choice in every aspect of life might be actually making us lonely and cause us more distress than we realize.
So what can we do to alleviate the pain? Limit the choice and don’t be too informed is my advice.
What’s your advice? How do you think people can make ‘choices’ that make them happy?